Marlins Spring Training Report: Full Update of Surprises, Busts and Injuries
It's often said the best things come in small sizes. What's often not said is the worst things also come in small sizes.
And when it comes to spring training, all things come in small sample sizes.
With that said, the Miami Marlins are far enough along (18 of 32 games played) into spring training that certain revelations start becoming truths by this time of the year. In fact, as more cuts are made, it's evident what players have made a positive impression and whom the coaching staff likes for the start of the 2014 season, which was the case when the Marlins sent 12 players back to the minor leagues last week.
With two weeks left before Opening Day, the coaching staff must decide who the surprises are and if they are going to stick, who the busts are and ponder if it's just a bad tune-up for the season or if it's the real deal, and if any injuries have ruined any plans that were made in the offseason.
So, without further ado, here are the Marlins' surprises, busts and key injuries thus far in spring training.
Tom Koehler and Brad Hand: If you put the spring training stats of Koheler and Hand side by side, you would be hard-pressed to tell one apart from the other. That's how good they have been.
Koehler has a 1-0 record with a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings this spring. He has yielded seven hits, walked two, struck out 11 and opponents are hitting a pedestrian .175 off of him. On March 14, according to the Palm Beach Post, Koehler became the first Marlins pitcher to throw five innings this spring.
"He looks like a different guy from last year to this year," Marlins manager Mike Redmond told the Sun-Sentinel. "It's been a real pleasure to watch him go out there and work this spring."
Meanwhile, Hand is 2-0 with also a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings pitched; and Hand has given up nine hits, walked two, struck out 15 and opponents are hitting .196 off the left-hander.
The way these two have performed, the Marlins coaching staff must be giddy, considering they were among a handful of guys who were competing for one starting rotation spot. Now, the bad news is there might not be enough room for both Koehler and Hand.
"We're only going to take 12, and that's the beauty of where we're at right now, that we do have great competition among the pitchers," Marlins bench coach Rob Leary told MLB.com. "I think it's a real healthy thing that there is that competition right now, and we'll find out who's ready, who might not be and who rises to the top."
The best-case scenario is Koehler makes the team as the No. 5 starter and Hand is the team's long-reliever. Or it could be the other way around, considering the Marlins don't have a left-hander in the rotation. If Hand becomes a member of the starting rotation, the Miami Herald reports, he would be the rotation's first southpaw since Mark Buehrle in 2012.
One of those two scenarios could happen because, as Rotoworld noted, Hand is out of options, which means the Marlins can't send Hand back to the minor leagues without trying to put him through waivers.
Reed Johnson: When the Marlins signed Johnson to a minor league deal two months ago, they wanted to bring in more competition for valuable roster spots.
Now, Johnson could be the starting left fielder, or at least platoon with Brian Bogusevic, according to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. Johnson currently has a slash line of .370/.414/.444 with a pair of doubles and five runs batted in.
"It's great to be recognized as a player in camp and they want you there for all the things you do in the clubhouse, but at the same time I know I can still play the game," Johnson told the Sun-Sentinel. "I know they're always talking about, 'Hey, he's 37, he's the oldest gut in the clubhouse,' this and that, but I feel like I'm probably in better shape than a lot of the 30-year-olds and can play good enough defense like some of the younger guys as well. I pride myself that I'm getting jobs because I'm a good clubhouse guy, but I can still play the game. I still feel like I have a lot to offer as a player and hopefully the way spring is going so far I've kind of proven that."
The failed kiddies of 2013: That would be second baseman Derek Dietrich, center fielder Jake Marisnick and catcher Rob Brantly.
In 2013, these rookies struggled in the big leagues. Dietrich's slash line was .214/.275/.405 in 233 plate appearances, Marisnick's was .183/.231/.248 in 118 plate appearances and Brantly's was .211/.263/.265 in 243 plate appearances.
But this spring they have thrived. Dietrich's slash line is .333/.412/.533 with one home run and three doubles in 30 at-bats, Marisnick's is .346/.414/.500 with three extra base hits and three stolen bases in 26 at-bats and Brantly's is .350/.409/.600 with one home run and two doubles in 20 at-bats.
With Marisnick, he'll also probably start the season in the minors as well, unless the Marlins give him the starting center field job.
As for Dietrich, he might have the most to gain. Dietrich could be the starting second baseman if Rafael Furcal is not healthy come Opening Day, according to the Miami Herald.
Marcell Ozuna: When spring began, Ozuna was the favorite to become the Marlins starting center fielder.
But today, it might not be the case any more.
Currently, Ozuna has a slash line of .143/.279/.257 in a team-high 35 at-bats. On the bright side, four of Ozuna's five hits have been for doubles and he has drawn six walks thus far.
If Ozuna doesn't improve quickly, he could start the season in the minors. According to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, the Marlins have talked internally about moving Christian Yelich to center field and using some combination of Johnson, Bogusevic and Jeff Baker in left field.
For now, though, it's still Ozuna's job to lose.
Jacob Turner: Up until Thursday, Turner was in the same shoes as Ozuna.
Turner entered spring as the front-runner for the team's No. 4 spot in the starting rotation. But in his first two spring training starts, Turner had a 6.23 ERA and opponents hit .409 off Turner as he gave up nine hits in 4.1 innings.
But on Thursday, Turner righted the ship as he pitched four strong innings against the Detroit Tigers, yielding two runs, one earned, on four hits in four innings of work. Since then, pitching coach Chuck Hernandez told the Miami Herald that Turner was "miles ahead" from where he was last spring. Meanwhile, Redmond had even more encouraging words.
"He looks a hundred times better than last year," Redmond told the Sun-Sentinel. "The ball is coming out of his hand much better, he's much stronger and we have been pretty happy with the way he has pitched this spring."
It also helps Turner that he, like Hand, is out of options, according to MLB.com.
That said, one good start doesn't erase the flashbacks Turner possibly provided in his first two spring starts this year of what he endured last spring, when he went 0-3 with a 9.69 ERA before being demoted to the minor leagues.
Free agents signings of 2013: That would be first baseman Garrett Jones, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and second baseman Rafael Furcal.
These are the first three players the Marlins signed in free agency this past offseason. They will cost the Marlins $32.25 million in guaranteed money.
And yet, these three have struggled thus far in spring training. Jones has a slash line of .118/.143/.235 in 34 at-bats, Saltalamacchia's is .185/.267/.407, although he has hit two home runs, and Furcal's slash line is an identical .167/.167/.167 in 18 at-bats.
Marlins fans probably breathe a sigh of relief knowing spring training stats don't count. That said, Furcal has other issues besides performance.
Marisnick, Ozuna, and Kevin Slowey entered spring training after having their 2013 season ended because of injuries. Evidently, they are healthy now, as Ozuna has had the team's most at-bats, Marisnick has garnered ample playing time with 26 at-bats and Slowey has a 1.86 ERA in 9.2 innings.
The rest of the squad has been relatively healthy, but a few notable players do have some nicks and bruises.
Since his return, Baker has one hit in five at-bats. His slash line is .286/.375/.333 this spring.
Rafael Furcal: Unlike Marisnick, Ozuna and Slowey, Furcal has continued to be bothered by injury.
After missing all of 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Furcal has been slowed by a strained left hamstring.
Furcal initially suffered the strain last week, but he returned Saturday only to re-injure it again. Furcal will meet the team doctor today to determine the extent of his most recent setback. Furcal has had just 18 at-bats, whereas the Marlins would like for him to get at least 50 so he could adapt to a new position at second base and get back into the swing of things after missing all of last season.
"Obviously, that will be difficult to do depending on how long he's out. The longer he's out, it'll be that much more difficult," Leary told MLB.com. "And missing the season last year, that's another part of the equation that you're not comfortable with. But that's what we're presented with, and that's what he's presented with. Hopefully, it's a short-term thing and he can get back out there."
Ed Lucas: The 31-year-old Dartmouth graduate left Thursday's game with a strained left hamstring.
Prior to the injury, Lucas was in a battle with Donovan Solano for a roster spot and had a slash line of .318/.375/.545 with one home run and four runs batted in. Leary told the Miami Herald that Lucas could resume baseball activities in the next couple of days. His value comes in his ability to play multiple positions.
"He brings us versatility, and when I [say] versatility, everything,” Redmond told the Sun-Sentinel. “This guy can pitch. He can catch. He’s an outfielder. He can play every position in the infield. That’s the beauty of Ed Lucas is that he can do so many different things. You’re covered at every single position, and those guys don’t grow on trees, especially as an emergency catcher to be able to do that as well…We know he can play short, which is big for us."